Switching up the hooks used to catch summer flounder could help save the lives of fish too short to legally keep, saving them to swim another day, officials believe.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will distribute 20,000 free “J hooks,” sometimes called circle hooks, to tackle shops around the state as part of its “If You Can’t Keep It, Save It” program. The state fought – and won – a battle with a federal regulatory agency to keep the minimum size for summer flounder at 18-inches this season, saying increasing the size to 19-inches would have meant more fish would die from being thrown back than caught and eaten.
“We are asking all anglers to help protect summer flounder for future generations,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said. “New Jersey is fully committed to doing the right thing by using science and public education to conserve a species that is critical to the fishing culture and economy of New Jersey.”
The hooks were donated by Eagle Claw, a major manufacturer of fishing tackle. The first boxes were delivered to Fisherman’s Supply in Point Pleasant Beach on Thursday, with DEP representatives on hand.
Jim Donofrio, founder of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, was also on hand to introduce the program. Donofrio’s group lobbied hard to keep the minimum size limit at 18-inches. Ultimately, Trump administration officials backed the state over the regulatory body, which consisted of many holdovers from the previous administration.
“We’d be killing more fish at 19 [inches],” said Donofrio. “DEP did an outstanding job of making that case, and the secretary [of commerce] agreed. Mr. Trump has some of the best and brightest hired there, people who know fisheries, not political hacks.”
The plan to distribute the hooks dated back to January, when officials were looking for ways to reduce what is known as “discard mortality,” the number of fish that die from being thrown back because they do not meet the legal size limit, said Larry Herrighty, director of the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.
“During a survey we did this spring, sportsmen said they were willing to try new techniques to minimize mortality,” said Herrighty. “So we developed this campaign and we’re very pleased that Eagle Claw donated these hooks.”
For a list of shops where the hooks are available, visit: www.SaveFluke.nj.gov or follow the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife on Facebook at NJFISHANDWILDLIFE.
As part of its campaign, the Division of Fish and Wildlife encourages anglers to follow these techniques:
- Plan ahead – Expect to release fish and have the necessary equipment to do so, including de-hookers and nets; more experienced anglers may also consider using a recompression tool, a device that allows fish to be returned to the water at a safer depth.
- Use appropriate gear – Use gear suited to the size of the fish that you are trying to catch; 5/0 to 7/0 size hooks are recommended to successfully land bigger fish and reduce discards.
- Handle fish carefully – Use knotless, rubberized landing nets and rubberized gloves to avoid removing the protective slime layer on fish and help ensure survival when the fish is returned to the water.